Manuscript Monday:

It’s Manuscript Monday! How are you using your words?

One way to make your manuscript shine and take it from normal to exceptional is to push your word power. Here are some different ways to say “dark”.

In the comments, leave us a sentence with your favorite subsitution for the word dark and we will randomly select a winner for an ebook of your choice from either Pen Name Publishing or French Press Bookworks.

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Manuscript Monday: Word Power

It’s Manuscript Monday! How are you using your words?

One way to make your manuscript shine and take it from normal to exceptional is to push your word power. Here are some different ways to say laugh/to laugh.

In the comments, leave us a sentence with your favorite subsitution for laughand we will randomly select a winner for an ebook of your choice from either Pen Name Publishing or French Press Bookworks.

Word Power: Other options for laugh | Pen Name Publishing

Author Short Story: Ambriehl Khalil

March Short Story Prompt-LuckJoin us

It’s We’re Writing Wednesday and today we have this special treat from Ambriehl Khalil, author of the soon to be released LGBTQ YA Fiction, Coins In the Coffee Cup.

One thing we love about these monthly prompts is the way our authors interpret them. While the words Magic, New, Love, and Luck seem so plain and direct, every story takes on a life of their own. When we saw Ambriehl’s piece, we had to smile at her opening line.

We think you’ll know why. Enjoy!

{loosely based around luck}

Don’t You Cherish Me To Sleep

London, Brady Street, 1887

Begrudging, pesky little shits. Beggars. Always in the fucking way of things, aren’t they? Hovering around corners, sitting on the street, hand out, not showered in weeks—months, probably. Disgusting creatures, lurkers. Not that Tomas can complain, really. He’s no better. He still looks at them with distain though, as they sit on the corner of Brady Street, barely any clothes on, shivering away as if they didn’t have a choice. Everyone has a choice. It’s just up to you whether you decide to pity yourself, or get off your arse. Sure, Tomas is a little bitter. Sure, he should probably feel bad for them, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t have time to feel bad for them. Not when his bones are withering away inside of him. Not when his barely-there coat is only as good as fucking sheet, for Christ’s sake.
Okay, so maybe he’s over reacting. He has a pile of papers to sell, it’s mid-december—it’s absolutely freezing. There’s snow coating the sides of the roads, clumping on his lashes and sticking in his hair, the sun has just set for the day, and it has started to rain. Because of-fucking-course it has. Also, it’s his birthday. It’s December 15th, 1887, and here he is. Roaming the streets, shoving papers in people’s faces to earn a few pounds, if that, for rent this month. Brilliant way to spend his birthday, just what he had planned.

Tomas presses himself against the closest brick wall, cursing under his breath and shoving the remaining lot of papers under his jacket. It’s no use, the rain is starting to pick up—his fringe is already plastered to his forehead. His clothes are already starting to soak through. God, he hates the rain. He hates the way it wets his only source of income, the way it makes people moody and rude, desperate to get off the street, hurrying past him as he uses what left of his voice he has, waving after a high classed business man, lowering the price to two pence instead of five.

Tomas sneezes and flips up the collar of his jacket, tugs his cap deeper into his face as he leans against the wall, eyes scanning the ebony sky as he watches people run past him, ignoring his protests. He groans in frustration, he has ten more papers to sell. Ten. He’s just about to give up, maybe make his way over to Waterloo Station, see how the others are doing; maybe mope a bit more about how it’s his twenty second birthday, and he’s on the street in the blistering cold, working his ass off. He pushes off the wall, watching as the street nears silence now that the rush has passed.

It happens very quickly. First, he turns around. Second, a warm body smashes into him. Third, he collides with the ground, cool water seeping into his clothes. Fourth, his papers are flying around him, landing in a puddles, ink leaking away. Naturally, Tomas flips the fuck out.

“Oh my God! Oh shit, oh God, oh buggering fuck!” He squarks from the ground, eyes nearly bulging out of his head as he scrambles on his knees over the dirty ground, rushing to savour his papers. He picks them up, hands shaking and tries to smooth them out. Of course, it only smudges it more. He realises very, very quickly, hands paused in the air where he is smoothing out one of the papers, the reason that he is currently on the ground is because someone has run into him. Which, here, is nothing good. He’s frozen, hand mid air, not even ten seconds after his stream of curses. Because shit. It’s probably some rich folk, one of those brilliantly dressed men in tailored suits, faux smiles and money coming out of their asses. No, take that back, it’s definitely, one. It definitely is one, because people like Tomas don’t just get slammed into by people like himself, by anyone other than the hierarchy of the living. He’s nothing but a bug on the ground in comparison, dirty and unwashed. Nearly as bad as a beggar themselves.
He swallows, closes his eyes, curses again. He lets his arms fall limp on the sides, the papers all but forgotten, sodding away in the very rain that is soaking him. He wills himself not to cry. Not right now. Not in front of the rich. It’s just his luck, isn’t it? So he waits. Swallows again, and waits with his breath held. It’s been approximately fifteen seconds since he’s been rammed. He waits for the blow. He waits for the stream of kicks and smacks that’s awaiting him, endless names telling him how worthless he is and disgusting. He waits, and he waits, and nothing happens.

He looks up, very carefully, and his breath nearly gets stuck in his throat. Well, actually, it does. He sucks in too much air as he inhales, swallows rain water without realising and starts spluttering everywhere, heaving and coughing and trying to push his shaking hand to his mouth. Before he gets the chance, a gloved hand is wrapping around his wrist.

Tomas turns and looks at the person who is now squatting at his level, white gloved hand still covering his wrist so delicately.

“My apologies, sir, are you okay?” A husky voice breathes out. It’s deep, but not in an obnoxious way. It sounds like honey and caramel, screams winter and wood fires. Calming. Tomas looks up at him, wet curly, almost black, hair plastered around the sides of his face, a frown in place, plush lips dotted with rain, droplets of fresh water clinging to his eyelashes, cascading down his face like tears would. He’s no older than Tomas, for sure. Nineteen at most, and he’s, well, he’s beautiful. Effortlessly gorgeous, beauty beyond compare. The kind of blue eyes that aren’t dead like his own, they’re alive, glimmering and shining; screaming out the wonders that life has to offer. Tomas, quite literally, has the breath knocked out of him. It’s not like this happens often. It’s not like he comes across a beautiful boy and positively loses his breath—that kind of stuff just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t. But here he is, staring at this flawless rich boy, who’s wearing a purple (purple?!) suit. It’s rich in colour, outstanding. Marvellous. The kind of purple that positively beams wealth. He’s wearing a lavender bow tie with white polka dots to match his gloves.

“Sir?” He raises an eyebrow at Tomas’ lack of response, causing him to jump into action. Tomas rips hand out of the strangers grip and jolts to his feet. He leans down, quickly picking up each and everyone of the soaked papers, trying not to swear like a sailor. “Are you alright?” The boy asks again, “I didn’t hurt you, did i?” His voice isn’t normal. It’s not raging, demanding; not like the normal men of wealth around here, no. It’s laced with concern. Concern that Tomas absolutely does not want.

“I’m fine, thanks.” He quips, scrunching the papers to his chest and closing his eyes. “Thanks for that, real prize, innt?” Great way to spend my birthday, thanks kid. He holds out the soaked clumps in his hand.

“My deepest apologies,  I will compensate for all of these immediately.” He’s standing now, the stranger. He’s standing in front of Tomas with his eyebrows pinched and just … staring. It sets him on edge, almost, makes him shift under the weight of this strangers stare.

“Well?” Tomas questions, waiting. It seems to startle the boy and he jumps, digging his hands into his pockets and pulling out a few coins. He takes Tomas’ hand, drops them into his open palm. The rest of his palm is filling with rain water as it picks up around them. The wind is stronger, freezing Tomas’ damp face with each gust that passes him. “Right.” He says, swallowing and curling his hands around the coins. “Thank you. Good day. Evening. Night … Shit.” He stutters. The stranger raises an eyebrow, a small smirk forming. “Okay, bye.” Tomas says quickly, ripping his hand away and turning around, ready to set off back to his one room flat that he shares with six other boys.
There’s more coins than he needs, sitting in his palm. Far more. He might even be able to afford some bread for diner tonight, if he’s lucky. Maybe he could buy Edward a slice too. He hasn’t eaten in three days, too busy trying to scrounge up his share of rent. He’s just about to take the first step away when a hand grips his elbow, pulling him to a halt.

“Wait-” the stranger says, turning him around, eyes scanning him up and down rapidly. “What’s your name?” He’s staring at Tomas desperately.

“Uh … Tomas?”

“Tomas,” he sighs, a smile forming. “Tomas, would you like to accompany me to my rooms? They’re not too far from here. You’re awfully soaked and it’s the least i can do.” He’s smiling brightly. Tomas stares, stomach dropping. Of course. That’s why there’s a few extra coins in his palm right now. Of course. He glares at him, eyes burning into the stranger, watching as with every second that passes, his smile begins to fade. “Am I taking your silence as a no, then?”

“I’m no rent boy,” Tomas spits venomously and rips his arm from the boys grasp.

No! No, that’s not what I meant. I-I would never, not ever, Tomas. You’re far too .. too …”

“Too? To what?”

“Far to beautiful to be a rent boy.”

His heart stops momentarily, throat closing up entirely. “What?” He croaks.

“I just-”

“Caspar!” Someone calls from across the road. Both of them whip their heads to the sound, blinking through the rain as a woman in her mid thirties, stands across the street, waving her hand frantically. “Come on darling, we will miss our carriage for Manchester if you don’t hurry now!”

“You must be Caspar, then.” Tomas says quietly. It’s not a question. The boy looks back, eyes wide and face paled. He nods his head. “Best get going then, Caspar.”

“I don’t-”

“Best get going,” he quips.

“Caspar, darling! We don’t talk to beggars, move along now!” The woman calls again.

Tomas doesn’t wait for another word. He doesn’t look at the boys piercing sea-blue eyes as he turns away, blinking the rain away furiously from his eyelashes as he stalks in the direction of his flat, ignoring the washed out calls from the woman across the road as she calls for Darling Caspar. Ignoring the washed out calls from the boy standing in the middle of the street, calling for him.

Fate stands there, leaning against a brick wall, lip in between her teeth as she watches. She’ll get it right, she thinks. Eventually.

Soho, Brewer Street, 1921

Tomas’ eyelashes are clumping together. He’s tried blinking the tears away, but they won’t stop. They’re never ending. He’s sitting in front of the beauty mirror, clad in only the most excessively revealing pants, if they could even be considered as pants. They’re barely covering his privates. He sits in front of the mirror, staring at himself, eyes bloodshot and red rimmed. They’re burning, they feel like they’re on fire. Scalding. He’s a mess. A beautiful mess. A beautiful nightmare. His caramel hair is in clumps, absolutely disheveled, sticking out in all the wrong directions as he fists his hands through it, rips it aggressively. He’s alone, thankfully. He doesn’t cry in front of others. It means he’s weak if he does. Tomas is not weak. The rest of the boys have sauntered out to do their show, attend to their clients. Tomas doesn’t understand how they do it with such grace, with such beauty—how they strut out of the dressing room clad in almost nothing and attend to their bossy, rich, possessive and disgusting clients, with a smile as if they’re proud.

Well, Tomas does too. He’s the best one here. He’s been told many times; ‘Tomas, darling’ they’ll say, ‘you’re absolutely magnificent! Just delicious.’ He’s dying on the inside though. The rest of them, they’re never dying. They come back, gargling on about how beautiful their recent was, how strong and handsome he was. How he tipped them extra for doing something extravagant with their tongue. Tomas doesn’t understand how they do it. He doesn’t understand how they look at themselves in the mirror and are proud. Tomas looks in the mirror and he wants to throw up.

It happens every night. He sits here, in front of the same fucking mirror that’s been dedicated to him because, of course, he’s ‘The King’. It’s the best mirror in the dressing room, biggest of them all, they’re all jealous. Tomas sits in front of it every single spare moment he has where he’s not working, and he cries. He stares at himself, sobs, rips his hair out, sobs again, vomits in the bin beside him, sobs even more. It’s a routine.

He swallows dryly, looks up at his reflection and grimaces at the empty, lifeless eyes he sees staring back at him. God, he hates them. He hates this place, hates how he’s forced to sell his body to filthy men because he can’t go anywhere else. He’s trapped here. Wound and bound. They own him here. Tomas Fletcher is owned by a fucking underground pleasure party. It’s disgusting. He hates it, but he’s nothing without this place. He feels like he’s on fire, his whole body is on fire. He always feels like he’s burning. Every day, every night. He’s burning. He’s been burning for so long. He can’t remember the last time he felt like he wasn’t aflame.

“Two minutes, Tom.” Bill calls from the door. Tomas salutes him, doesn’t look away from the mirror. Doesn’t look at him. His next client is in two minutes. He’s going in, in two minutes. Quickly, he wipes his eyes and clearly his throat. He rips his fingers through his hair, styling it to make it presentable. He has to be inviting, beautiful, ravishing. He has to walk through the illegal underground club filled with filthy, money swamped men, and have them stare at him, bite their lip, book him for the next session. That’s his job. He fucking hates it.

He stands up, looks at himself in the mirror with a grimace, and turns away. His client is waiting, after all.

*

Tomas hates the way he walks through the men after he’s finished with a client, satisfied them to their needs. He hates the way their sweaty hands paw at him, complimenting him on his beauty, his gorgeous complexion, how nice his thighs are. He hates it. There’s half an hour until he has to perform. He wishes he could run away. Instead, he opts for pulling on a pair of trousers and a shirt, walking up the rounded staircase and into the flats above them. He needs fresh air, there’s only so much one can take of being shoved underground for so long, pleasing men until you can’t move anymore. He pushes out the front door, sucking in the fresh air as it hits him and collapses against the brick wall, closing his eyes and breathing it in.
The night is so lovely. It’s mid-winter, snow is forming in clumps everywhere, beautiful pillows of white. He tries not to let it bother him that he’s not wearing anything warm. He won’t be out here for long away, only long enough to enjoy the chill as it bites into his skin, sucking on the flesh for a few minutes.

He tries not to let it bother him that its his twenty second birthday and he’s selling his body away to greedy men. There’s nothing else I can do, Tomas tells himself every single day. There’s nothing else I can do, I’m a prisoner, he tells himself when he wakes up in the early hours of the morning, before the sun has even come out, screaming from the nightmares that a seared into his brain.

He pulls out a cigarette from his trousers along with a match, lighting it up and wrapping his stiff lips around it. He sucks in the toxins, lets it fill his lungs before he releases. He likes the fact that there’s a way to speed up the dying process, admires it, even.

“You’re outside in a pair of trousers and a dress shirt, during mid-winter. May I ask why?” A deep, honey-liquid voice rumbles from beside him. Tomas nearly jumps out of his shoes as he jolts up from his position, clasping his hand over his heart and sucking in air. “Oh, my apologies, I didn’t mean to startle you.” The voice says again. He’s panting in shock, but he looks beside him to see a young boy, beautiful, so beautiful, standing next to him, eyebrows raised and a grin on his face. There’s snow hiding in his curls. Tomas swallows and falls back against the wall, sucks in more death.

“It’s my escape.” He shrugs.

“What? The possibility of freezing to death?” The boy chuckles.

“Yes, because I do enjoy choosing freezing, as a way of dying,” he rolls his eyes. “No, just being out here. Fresh air and all.”

“You could always opt for getting fresh air during the day, doesn’t that sound like a better idea? Or perhaps you could consider a coat. You’ll catch a death if you stand out here for too long.” Tomas looks over, cigarette between his teeth. The boy is still staring at him, smirk in place.

“What are you doing here, then?” Tomas asks.

“I’m going to see the show.”

“The show?”

“Yeah, underground.” He points to the door behind him. “Not much for the whole rent boy thing, not really. Just like to watch the dancers, I think. More for the crowd though.”

“The crowd? The filthy men loaded with money? That crowd?” Tomas asks, appalled. The boy shrugs.

“Why not? I like the warmth of the place, enjoy drowning myself in stolen whiskey and soulful jazz for a while. It’s better than sitting around reminiscing about my lost comrades and those awfully terrifying days of confusion between dusk and dawn, not knowing whether to sleep or to stay awake in case you don’t wake up. You know?” His voice is slow, pronunciation of every word said almost flawlessly. Tomas is watching the boy carefully as he stares ahead of him, staring at the moonlight that’s casting shadows over the empty streets.

“You’re a solider?”

The boy nods, “I go back tomorrow. It’s my last night. I might die, might not. I’d prefer to spend my night amongst people though, the lights. I like the lights.”

“I hate them.”

“Why?”

Why? That’s the big question, isn’t it? Men come for the show, to watch the dancers tease their way around stage, grinning at the sound of lewd whistles and catcalls. He despises the way they drool over the dancers as if they’re dolls. Puppets. Collectables. Then, proceed to pick one of their choosing, book them out, have them, and then leave. They all come for Tomas though, as as horrifying as it is. They come for Tomas’ shows. They come and they watch his solo act. They sit there, bar near quiet despite the tunes of the raunchy song the band starts to play. They stare intently as he emerges from the floating ash and cigar smoke in the bar, covered in white feathers, silky skin to match, a pair of impossibly bright but dead eyes peeking from the top of the feather fan. They watch the long stretch of his legs that are always tucked into a pair of kitten heels, the way he takes his time as he saunters and sways across the stage, smiling shyly to the accompanied rhythm of the saxophone and the click of his heels.

He has them all captured, every single one in the room, every single filthy man. He has them all captured as he reaches the dead centre, shrugging his shoulder shyly and gasps as one of the feathered fans clatters to the ground. He moves to cover himself, doe eyes wide and a rosy blush covering his cheeks. He moves to continue his routine, only until one of the comedians in the pit beside the stage stands, gripping the feathered fan, he calls,

“I beg your pardon-”

The whole crowd falls into silence, holding their breath. This is the part they wait for.

“Well,” Tomas will drawl, “What are you begging for? You’re old enough to ask for it.”

Everything explodes after, uproarious laughter, the band whips into full swing. He lets the second fan fall to the floor and he’s left in the middle, half naked and a dirty smirk on his lips. In the midst of the fire, he’ll wrap satin delightfully around the curve of his body, shimmering and shattering the light with every shake of his hips. Everyone loves it. The crowd weeps for him, shouting his name, drawling it out in chants. He bends and he teases in the way he knows how. The crowd barks orders at him, begging him what to do, and he’ll cup his hand to his ear, beckoning them to call louder, that he can’t hear them.

“Oh, this thing?” Tomas will call back to them, tracing his hands up his body and landing on his panties. He’ll tug at them, a grin firmly in place. “Off?” The response is always overwhelming, screams of ‘yes’ and ‘please’ and ‘take it off’ flood his ears. He’ll simply smile, drop the satin and bite his lip, tracing his fingers over the thin material covering his privates. He’ll walk backwards, lip still between his teeth, and turn around. The spotlight is on him, the crowd is screaming. He’ll start to tug them down, slowly, slowly, and then stop. Turning back, a flick of his hand and a,

“Maybe next time.” Accompanied with a wink and a badum-tsst of the drums. He’ll saunter off the stage, back into the dressing room, accepting the compliments from the rest of the dancers. He’ll thank them, wait until they leave, and then cry.

“They hurt my eyes.” Is all he says.

The boy says nothing. It’s minutes, hours, seconds, days, years, before he speaks again. Tomas decides he likes his voice. He likes it very much.

“I’d like to see the ocean, I think. I’ve never seen the sea before.”

“Then see the sea,” Tomas swallows, flicking the bud of his cigarette onto the middle of the road. He stares ahead of him. “It’s my birthday,” Is the thing that follows. He never tells anyone, there’s no need. But he finds he wants to tell this beautiful boy, who wants to see the sea and who fights the war, standing beside him.

“Your birthday?” The boy repeats, surprised. Tomas nods his head. “Well, I suppose I owe you a birthday gift then, don’t I?” Tomas looks over, eyebrows furrowed in confusion because, really, who is this boy?

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“Oh but you see, that’s where you are wrong. Today is your birthday, you can ask me of anything you desire, so long as it’s not outrageous, and I will give it to you. I shall give it to you because, dear …” He cuts off, stuttering. He clears his throat. “What’s your name?” He whispers awkwardly and Tomas positively laughs. It’s the first time he’s laughed in months, years, a real laugh, and it surprises him. But he tells the boy anyway. He tells the boy his name, and the boy, smiles. Beams. It’s as beautiful as the sun. “Tomas! Well, yes. You see, dear Tomas. I shall give it to you because tomorrow I go to war, and who knows if I’ll survive. So, I will give you a birthday gift, and if I die, then I die knowing I have done a good deed.”

“You’re doing a good deed by going to war, solider.”

“Caspar. My name is Caspar.”

“Well, Caspar. As I said. You have already done a good deed. No need to spoil a stranger with gifts.”

There’s an odd silence that follows after. Tomas stares ahead of him, heart pounding in his chest. “Anything?” He asks, very quietly. It’s a ghost of a breath. He has a feeling Caspar is watching him.

“Anything you desire.”

Tomas swallows. Anything he desires. He closes his eyes, there’s something burning under his skin, something he wants to try and it’s now or never. The words are out before he changes his mind. “A kiss?” Tomas doesn’t dare look at him. He keeps his eyes squinted shut.

“A kiss?

Tomas nods. There’s nothing that follows, and for a moment, he’s sure Caspar has ran away, horrified of such a valiant request, but then there’s hands pressing against the side of his waist and Tomas blinks his eyes open to see Caspar staring right back at him, eyes pouring into his, bright and shining. There’s a glimmer of something there, Tomas can’t put his finger on what it is. The smirk is back, only faint, but it’s there, in the corner of his mouth, and then it’s gone. In a flash, it disappears and Tomas is looking right into him, and Caspar is looking back and he’s just watching. He’s watching with a solemn expression, eyebrows creased together as though he’s taking in a wounded animal. It’s not in a hawkish or condescending way, but in a manner of absolute empathy. He’s looking at Tomas as if he knows, as if he can see everything rushing through him right at that very moment. Perhaps every moment. Tomas closes his eyes, squints them shut and tries to smooth the lines from his face and focus on pushing away the steaming nausea that’s erupting inside of him. There’s a cool hand touching his cheek gently, so carefully, like he is glass, and he flutters his eyes open to see Caspar staring at him still, so intensely, and Tomas has never had anyone look at him that way. But Caspar is leaning in, eyelashes fanning and shadowing over his cheeks as they fall closed, and Tomas is closing his eyes too, drawing in a hesitant breath. Caspar moves until his lips brush his. It’s careful, hesitant, maybe a little unsure. He lets Caspar take the lead, allowing him to push closer as the kiss grows deeper, longer, Caspar’s lips parting against his own.

He reaches for Caspar’s shirt, grips in it in his hands and pulls him impossibly closer as desire rushes through his blood. Caspar is strong and solid and warm against him, and Tomas has never felt like this before. It’s nothing like the chapped kisses, cold dead lips that’s pressed against his own every other night. No, it’s something ferocious, something unchecked. It surges inside of him as he grips his shirt tighter.

He forces himself to pull back though, so he can see the boys face. His cheeks are flushes, eyes slightly glazed and he’s breathing heavily, breaths coming out in short pants. He’s about to lean in again, just once more, just a quick taste before it’s all over; quickly before anyone walks past and happens to see what’s happening in the middle of the street against a brick wall. But Bill comes rushing out, panic-struck and eyes searching frantically until they land on Tomas.

“Tom! You’re on in four!” He screeches, eyes blown wide, pupils dilated. All the air rushes out of his lungs and he pushes Caspar away from him, takes a step to the side, eyes him up and down. Caspar is staring at him, eyes running frantically over his entire body, there’s something glistening—maybe it’s a pleading, a beg for him to stay. It’s his last night, after all. But Tomas doesn’t stay. He clears his throat, stands tall, ignores the prickles that are pinging behind his eyelids, and turns away. He’s got a show to attend, after all. And Caspar goes to war tomorrow.

So Caspar is standing there, cold air nipping at his skin, watching as Tomas is dragged back inside, and Fate growls in frustration because really? The second time? She will get it right. She owes it to them, to get it right.

Manchester, Market Street, 1949

There’s snow everywhere. Winter, is quite literally, a fucking joke. Well, so Tomas has always assumed. There’s too much white, it’s icing up the street. It’s just turned midnight, it’s just turned the 15th of December. It’s just turned his twenty second birthday. He’s roaming the streets with Petar, barely talking. Every time he breathes, the air around him turns a brilliant shade of white before is disappears. He can see his breath. He’s not sure what they’re doing, where they’re going. Probably a pub somewhere if they keep walking. The streets are abandoned, barely anyone in sight. There’s a few homeless men in the corners, covering in all the clothing they have, heads ducked into their legs to avoid the chill. It’s positively freezing, and Tomas just wants to feel some alcohol in his system already. He think he deserves that much.

They’re about to turn the corner, discuss what pub they should head too, when there’s distant yelling. Tomas and Petar stop in their tracks, swallow loudly and turn around. They burry themselves deeper in their coats as they look, searching for where the shout came from. Just like that, the person emerges from a rounded corner, running for his life, he’s screaming, legs moving as fast as they can as two men run behind him, shouting curses. One is holding a gun.

“We should go,” Petar says quickly, turning to look at Tomas with panic stuck eyes. He nods his head, he’s about to turn around when the boy running reaches them quickly, grabbing onto them.

“Help! Help you have to help me! Help me please, please they’re going to kill me!” He screams, tear tracks down his face. His eye is swollen, what would be beautiful shaggy blond hair any other day, is dusted with dirt and dried blood. He’s gripping onto the lapels of Tomas’ coat, screaming as the two men get closer.

“Get off him, you fuck!” Petar is screaming, trying to pull the guy off of him. It happens really quickly. He doesn’t notice it at first, but the gunshot is as loud as anything. It’s a deafening scream in the silence as it goes off. He doesn’t register that it’s hit him until he tries to push the guy off of him, he finds the rivulets of blood running down his torso, pain searing through him in hypnotic waves. He lets out a gasp, frozen where he’s standing in the street, snow all around him, covering his boots.

“Oh, fuck.” He swears. He hears Petar gasp somewhere beside him. He can’t see where he is, he’s blinking to rapidly, trying to distinguish where the pain is coming from.

“Tomas?!” Petar shouts.

“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck.” Tomas hisses between his teeth, pain surging through his whole body now, white lights blinking behind his eyes. He doesn’t realise that he’s fallen to his knees until he feels the coldness of the snow seeping through his trousers, feels Petar’s hands on his shoulders which only makes the pain worse. Someone is screaming for help, for a medic, for anyone. It might be Petar. He squeezes his eyes closed, he just wants it to go away. He just wants the pain to disappear. It’s too much, there’s too much of everything. He can hear Petar swearing somewhere, cursing and three other voices yelling.

“You fucking shot him!” One yells.

“Oh shit!

“Is he okay?”

“I don’t think so. Oi! He’s running! Come back here you little prick!” And then they’re scattering off.

“Tomas! Tomas, open your eyes for me.” Petar begs through gasps, “Come on, please.” So he does. It takes a hell of a lot of effort, eyelids drooping again every time he tries to flutter them open. He catches a glimpse of his best friend in front of him, holding him, cheeks tinted pink from the chill, tear tracks down his face and wild eyes. “You need to get up, come on, I need your help.” He grunts, wrapping an arm around Tomas’ waist as he tries to hoist him up.

“You’re not dying. Not today. You’re not dying you bloody prick, come on!” He screams and Tomas tries, he does, he tries to take the first few steps, all of his weight leaned on the warm body next to him, but it doesn’t work. He’s on his knees again before he can catch a breath, hand coming up to press down on the side of his stomach. He groans in pain as he presses down, lifts his hand back up to his face to see it covered in a horrifying red.

“Well, isn’t this just a fucking gem of a day.” Tomas huffs a weak laugh. Petar doesn’t laugh back. He’s screaming for help, voice going raw as he tries to lift Tomas up again.

“Don’t be a prick,” he sobs.“I need to get you help. We need to get you help.” He’s leading Tomas against a brick wall. “Stay here, stay right here and don’t you dare move. I’m finding help, I promise Tom, I’m finding help. Don’t move!”

“If I could move there wouldn’t be an issue here,” he jokes, but Petar doesn’t laugh. He’s borderline manic.

“Don’t be a git.” He growls as he crawls up off the ground.

“Jesus, you could be a little nicer to me on my way out, don’t you think?” Tomas huffs again, a small smile appearing. His vision is blurry, but he sees Petar pause. Sees him staring at him.

“You’re not dying.” He finishes and presses and hard kiss to the top of Tomas’ head before he runs off. Tomas is drifting, floating away. Petar was his anchor, always had been from the first day they met. Seven years ago. They’ve been friends for seven years, and he wonders if that was a good enough goodbye. He lays his head back against the wall, lets out a sigh and winces as the pain bubbles inside of him again. It’s his birthday, the thought flashes through his mind. What kind of idiot gets shot on their birthday?

There’s darkness for a while, maybe too long. He finds it comforting. Time passes though, snowflakes settle on his nose, and more time passes. He opens his eyes when he feels someone shaking him gently.

“Sir?”

Another shake. The voice is low, rough, large hands war, where they’ve settle on Tomas’ frozen shoulders. “Sir, are you alive?”

He wheezes a laugh, his eyes snapping open at the question. He didn’t know he had that much energy left in him. “Not sure, am I?” There’s someone looking down on him, young and beautiful and Tomas can see that his expression is warm and comforting, his eyes a little crinkled around the edges. He almost wants to laugh. He’s dying on his birthday.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then.” His eyes are blearing closed. They snap back open when there’s a pressure on his wound, hard. Unmoving.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” He heaves. The boy just raises his eyebrows, presses down harder and he groans. “Have you no mercy?”

“I need to keep pressure on this.”

“Are you a medic?”

The boy shakes his head. “Studying, though.”

“A miracle.” Tomas wheezes, laughing a little. “Where’s Petar then?”

“Petar?” The boy questions.

“Blond hair. Big smile. Looking for a medic.”

“Oh. Uh, I don’t know? Sorry I was just walking past, nearly had a heart attack when I saw you sitting against the wall. I thought you were homeless, was going to let you be. You know how the homeless get; all grumpy and moody, but then I saw the blood.”

It takes a moment to register. Petar isn’t back. He’s still looking for help.

“You need a hospital,” the boy says quietly. “The closest one isn’t for miles.” He knows what it means, the underlying message of it. Hey, so, just to break it to you easily, you’re going to bleed out before your friend comes back. Great night, huh? He’s bleeding out. He knows it. He can feel the warmth of the blood rolling down his body, even despite the pressure from the boys efforts. He will bleed out, pass out. There won’t be any stitches or a blood transfusion that he would have received if he was in the comfort of a hospital. It’s too far to walk, the streets are abandoned, the night is dead. He’s going to die, right here on the side of the street, covered in snow. Something clenches inside of him, and he feels like he’s drowning on dry land, feels dizzy and sick with it. It’s not because he’s dying, no, he told himself daily that he could die at any moment. He just never truly believed it until now. It’s another thought that crashes down on him. It’s never ending, and he wants to breath.

“Fuck, Petar won’t make it back in time.” He gasps, looking at the boy in front of him who has a halo of curls.

“I’m sorry.” He says, looking down at the ground and sucking in a breath. Tomas bites his lip and brings up Petar’s tearful face, telling him he’s not going to die. Not today. He doesn’t want to think about it. He doesn’t want to analyse and process that it was the last goodbye. God, he has to focus on something else or he’s going to lose it.

“What’s your name?” Tomas asks, smiling weakly. “I’d like to know the name of the person who’s arms i’m dying in.”

“You’re not-”

“Cut the bullshit,” he laughs. “Petar isn’t back yet. There’s no hospital for miles. Houses are locked up. Nobody is going to let us in. We both know what that means, I’d rather not be lied too.” He breaks himself off with a small coughing fit, splatters of blood spilling out of his mouth with every cough, dribbling down his chin. The boy raises his free hand, wipes it off of his chin with the fingers. When Tomas opens his eyes, the boy is staring at hi with this intense sadness on his features that sets him on edge a little. He wonders if he looks at everyone who is dying that way, wonders if he’s ever seen someone actually die. Wonders if he’s the first.

“Caspar,” the boy says quietly. “My name is Caspar.”

“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Caspar.” Tomas whispers. “Now tell me, mister Caspar, what’s a guy like you doing wandering around the streets at just past midnight?”

It makes him laugh, and Tomas finds that he likes it. He doesn’t have to bring this bright-eyed boy down with him. If he’s going down, he’s not bringing anyone with him. It will be his mission, his focus, at least until he waits out the last of his energy.

“I’m here on holiday.”

Tomas coughs again, startled. “Holiday? You’ve come to Manchester, for your holiday?”

“Well, yeah. London is over done. Been there a million times. I decided to come and explore this beautiful place, decide whether it’s worth having me move after I finish my studies.”

“My apologies, this mustn’t be a very thrilling holiday for you, holding someone’s wound together.” He smiles lightly, it’s barely there, a subdued version of what is usually his witty, sarcastic self. He’s trying to hold on. “It’s find of pointless, though. You can let go, if you want.” His eyes flicker down to where Caspar’s hand is pressed against the side of his body, there’s blood seeping through his fingers.

“I don’t want to,” Caspar says and it sounds small. “I’m a medic. I’m supposed to help you.”

“A medic in training,” Tomas corrects and looks up at him, properly looks, drinks in the last face he gets to see. He can’t be much older than Tomas himself, can’t be older then twenty. Tomas is looking at him, and he wants to know everything.  “Tell me about yourself, young Caspar.”

Caspar swallows, looks up at the sky with a shaky smile. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything. Tell me everything you can.” He says, determined. He needs to know, needs to know everything about this boy. Needs to know the boy that’s holding him as he dies. Caspar is quiet for a few minutes. He’s staring up at the stars, bottom lip trembling. He quietly rights himself, sucks in a few harsh breaths and clears his throat.

“I grew up with just my mother, had an older sister too. And and older brother, but he disappeared before I could get close to him. Packed up and left when I was just turning seven. I remember it, I think. He was the man of the house, since my father left them when I was born. But he came home one night, absolutely furious, yelling at my mother and packing his bags, saying he can’t handle the pressure anymore. I don’t care much, he was gone from my life before I really could care, you know? But my sister and my mother, they’re brilliant. My mother? She’s a nurse, so is my sister. I just wanted to go with the family business, but take it up a notch. They were always so proud of me.” He stops for a second after his voice wavers a little.

“There was a river, just down the path near our home. Just past the forest. I used to walk to it all the time. I’d go no matter what the weather was, rain or not. I’d still go. Everyday. And I would sit there on the river bank, just watching for hours on end. I think I found it peaceful, maybe. It was so beautiful. The sunsets? They were my favourite. All the different colours that beamed in the sky, the oranges and pinks, borderline reds. I miss that, I think. I miss home.”

“I’m sorry this is how you’re spending your holiday, Caspar.” he says gently, but Caspar shakes his head fiercely.

“I’m not.”

They’re quiet for a while, probably too long, but then Tomas speaks. “When I was a kid, at night I would sneak out. It would always be so cold in winter, but i’d still go. And I would lay down in the middle of the snow and just stare up at the stars. It’s kind of like that now, don’t you think?” Tomas looks up at the stars shining brilliantly. Little balls of beauty. He thinks he’s at peace, maybe. The stars are with him, after all. He’s feeling tired now, so god damn tired. It’s such an effort to just make his lips form words. When he looks back at Caspar, he’s staring at him as if they’d known each other all their lives, as if he’s losing a dear friend. There’s a tear rolling down his cheek and he wants to reach for it, wipe it away, maybe. In that second, he feels so much for him, for this boy he doesn’t know. He feels strong for a moment, he feels like he needs to be strong, but he feels aching hopelessness.

“It’s my birthday,” Tomas whispers, because he has too. Petar was the only one who knew. He never wanted to celebrate his birthdays, was never a big thing. It was probably a bad idea, because Caspar looks like he’s been bludgeoned and his teary eyes have completely failed at attempting to hold anything back. Tomas is vaguely aware that he, himself, is crying too. He can feel the moisture on his cheeks. He’s so weak. He feels so weak. His eyelids are drooping, the chill in the air sinking into his bones. He feels so cold. In the distance, there’s a shout of his name. He thinks it sounds like Petar. He also thinks he feels a warm body fall against his, maybe Caspar, and he feels moisture on his neck. Probably tears. He wants to say something, wants to sooth him, tell him not to cry, but he can’t.

Fate turns away. She can’t bear to see the light leave Tomas’ eyes, on top of that, she doesn’t want to feel the desolation and heart ache that’s written all over Caspar’s features; the shaking loss that he will feel even though he doesn’t understand why. She’s mad at herself, but next time. She will get it next time.

London, Sea Life Aquarium, 2013

Tomas could kill Rhys, he thinks. He absolutely could. It’s freezing, and he’s is in a pair of jeans and a jumper, sitting at the fucking aquarium while the minutes tick down to midnight; to the end of his birthday. He’s leaning against the railing, looking over at the emperor penguins as they scuttle around over the ice, milling about. He checks his watch. Twenty minutes until it’s midnight. Why does Rhys work this late again? Better yet, why hasn’t he gotten his fucking license so it isn’t Tomas’ job to pick him up at god knows what hours from work? Yet here he is, moody and absolutely fucking drained from the hours he worked himself during the day at the toy store down the road, staring at fucking penguins. He turns around, muttering about how the fucking penguins, look more alive than he has in weeks. He’s staring back at them as he walks, glaring at one that’s pressed against the glass, staring back at him, mocking him. It’s probably laughing at him. If penguins could laugh, he thinks that’s what they’d look like when they do.

“Fucking stupid penguin,” he mutters and turns his head back around to see where he’s going, just in time to completely slam into another person. Their bodies collide together, there’s a squark and a yell and a loud ‘fuck!’ somewhere in there too, and they collapse onto the ground, the person’s bucket swinging into the air and dead fish flying out of it, hovering in the air for less than a second and falling straight back down on top of both bodies.

“Oh shit!” The person says and Tomas can only groan and keep his eyes closed. The ground is cool, nice and soft. Well, maybe not soft. Maybe hard like concrete. There is dead fish and slush all over him. He probably has a concussion. When he blinks his eyes open, there’s a boy hovering above him who has fluffy brown curls and wild eyes. The boy is staring down at him in shock, there’s a fish in his hair. Yes, definitely a concussion.

“Are you mental?” The above him says almost manically. Tomas groans again at he pounding in his head. He thinks there might be a fish stuck to the side of his face. “Do you know how to look where you’re going?!” The boy pants. “Uh …” He says after a moment. “Are you okay?” Tomas doesn’t respond, just looks at the stars that’s floating behind his eyes. Pretty, pretty stars. “Oh god I killed him,” the boy whispers, horrified. “I killed someone! Oh god. Oh god.”

“You didn’t kill me, you tit.” Tomas groans and opens his eyes again.

“You’re alive! Oh thank goodness, I thought you were dead. Get up, quick quick.” The boy grabs onto Tomas’ hands and hauls him up. He’s unsteady on his feet for a moment, he shifts his weight to the left a bit to much and nearly falls back down, but the boy’s hands fly out to steady him. “Are you okay?” he questions. Tomas groans again, presses his hand against his face. There’s sludge on him. Wonderful.

“I think i’ve died,” he coughs and then winces as his head pounds a little too much.

“Well no, you haven’t,” the boy deadpans. He’s very chipper. Tomas hates it.

“Yeah, i’ve definitely died. No one is as chipper as you are after colliding to the ground and having a bucket of fish fall on them.” In front of him, the boys face visibly pales and his eyes bulge wide.

“The fish!” He squarks and drops to his knees, curly hair flying with the impact. In hurried movements, he grasps the metal bucket and picks up the fish almost manically, shoving them in the bucket. Tomas should probably help. He doesn’t move from where he’s standing. “Are you going to help me?” The boy pants, looking up at him with wide eyes. Slowly, Tomas shakes his head. The boy narrows his eyes at him, grabs his hand and yanks him down the ground. Tomas goes with a yelp, knees colliding with the now slick flooring.

“Help help help, pick them up, quick!” The boy is panicking, trying to grab them all. Tomas reaches out carefully, grabs one and stares down at it. It’s very dead. Eyes wide, slick, and disgusting. It’s staring back at him. He feels himself grimace, squints down at it in question. He thinks, maybe, it blinks at him. He squeals so loudly that the boy next to him slips in shock and falls onto his stomach. Tomas throws the fish as far as he can until it hits the glass of the penguin den, sticking to it for a brief second before sliding down slowly. The penguin from before is still standing there, watching the fish slide down the glass. He sits there, panting as he stares back at the penguin. It’s judging him. Definitely.

There’s a cough from beside him and slowly, he peels his saucer like eyes away from the judgemental penguin and moves them to the boy who is kneeling beside him, lips quirked up lightly. It’s as if he’s suppressing a grin of amusement. Tomas hates it.

What?” He narrows his eyes at him. Blue eyes just clears his throat.

“You do realise you just screamed louder than my sister could, and threw a fish halfway across the room. Right?”

“It blinked at me.”

“It blinked at you? A dead fish, blinked at you?” Tomas nods. The boy stares at him, eyes wide for three whole seconds before he cracks and falls to the ground in hysterical laughter. Tomas tries not to laugh back, he really does, but after twenty whole seconds of keeping a straight face, he finds himself chuckling along with the curly headed boy in an aquarium uniform, covered in slime and smelling like fish.

“What’s your name?” Tomas asks when they quieten down.

“Caspar. You?”

“Tomas.”

“Well Tomas, it’s lovely to meet you. Welcome to the aquarium, this is the penguin den. You’re covered in fish guts.”

“Charming.” He giggles and looks down at himself. He is, in fact, covered in fish guts.

“May I ask,” Caspar clears his throat. “But why are you in the aquarium after hours?”

“Oh! Right. It probably looks bad-”

“It does.”

“Well, my mate works here, you see, and well, he’s a proper tit. He won’t get his license, so here I am, waiting for him to finish. I think he works somewhere near the jelly fish. I don’t pay attention. Anyway, he was supposed to have finished hours ago. He still hasn’t.”

“Oh. Well. That makes sense. Who’s your friend?”

“Rhys.”

“I know him!Yes, definitely with the jellies. He always gets stung. Good lad, though.”

“Yeah, he is.”

They’re silent for a while. Caspar is looking down at the slush covered ground, smiling a little, bottom lip in between his teeth. Tomas can feel himself flushing as he looks away, back over to the penguins.

“I don’t like it.” He says suddenly. Caspar looks up.

“Like what?”

“That penguin,” he points at it, narrowing his eyes. Fucking penguin.

“Archie? Why?”

“It’s been mocking me ever since I got here!”

“Oh no, that’s just how he looks at everyone. I think it’s his normal face. That, or he hates everyone. He’s harmless.”

“Doesn’t look harmless. He looks like he wants to cut off my limbs and eat them.” He scowls.

“Well, as a matter of fact, he can’t. Because he’s a penguin. So.”

He looks back over at the boy who is now opening grinning at him.

“You don’t know what penguins can do.”

“I do. I work with them. I study them. They’re penguins, Tomas. They’re not going to eat you.”

“You don’t know that.” He whispers.

“Alright, that’s it. Get up!” Caspar demands and jumps to his feet. He’s nearly slips on the sludge, but he rights himself.

“Why?” Tomas asks. Caspar sighs, holds out his hands. He takes them, lets himself be hauled up. Caspar grabs the bucket off the floor and struts to the penguin den, beckoning Tomas to follow. He does, hesitantly. When they reach the side, Caspar pulls out a set of keys and unlocks it, grabs two of the large coats, shrugs one on and hands the other for Tomas to take. He stares at it.

“No. No way. I’m not going in there. I won’t come out alive.”

Caspar groans and grabs his hand, pulls him forward. He almost trips, but then they’re inside with the penguins, and it’s fucking cold. Okay, cold is an understatement. It’s absolutely freezing. Like, Antarctica freezing. Which makes sense, but still. It’s cold okay? Tomas doesn’t like the cold. He shrugs on the jacket and follows as Caspar makes his way to Archie, runs his hand down his back.

“Hey big guy, you okay? Good. Here, dinner!” Caspar beams and shoves his hand in the bucket, pulling out two fish and throwing them in the air. One hits him on the head and he curses but they fall to the ground anyway. He spins back around. “See? Harmless!” He points to Archie, who is still staring at Tomas.

“I still don’t like him.”

“Well he doesn’t like you either,” Caspar quips defensively.  Tomas just raises his eyebrow, holding back a chuckle as the boy spins back around, grabs his bucket and makes a start at feeding the other penguins.

“Do you want a go?” He asks a little while later, holding up the last fish. “Come on!” He’s just about to say no, about to flat out refuse, when Caspar pushes out his bottom lip and gives the worlds biggest puppy dog eyes he’s ever seen in his life. And, well, he’s always been a sucker for a cute face. He finds himself feeding one of the penguins not even a minute later, scowling at a beaming Caspar.

His eyes scan over to his watch just as their walking out, hanging up the coats. There’s two minutes until midnight.

“Thank God,” he sighs.

“What?” Caspar turns around, cheeks pink and flushed from the cold.

“It’s almost midnight.” Tomas shrugs.

“How on earth is that a good thing? I should be sleeping.”

“Means it’s not my birthday anymore. Hate those thing. Pesky little fuckers.”

“It’s your birthday?

“Yeah, why?”

“Oh my god!”

“Why are you looking at me like that?” He panics when Caspar starts moving around frantically, flapping his hands.

“You need to do something! Quick! To mark your birthday!”

“Like what? There is literally like, thirty seconds left. I just fed a penguin.”

No, you have to do something memorable.”

“That was pretty memorable. I fucking hate penguins.” He shrugs, smiling at Caspar who is now frozen in place, staring down at him with a gleam in his eye. Tomas doesn’t like it. He’s looking at him funny. Then, out of nowhere, the boy surges towards him, pushes him against the glass of the penguin den, and kisses him.

He’s shocked, at first. Partly because he has a stranger kissing him for dear life, and partly because the glass he’s leaning  on is actually really bloody cold. He finds the second part more dis-concerning than the first. Tomas kisses him back. It’s a nice birthday gift, the boy’s lips are soft, pliant against his. When he pulls back, Tomas sucks in a gasp of air. He looks up to see Caspar grinning like a fool.

“Why are you smiling like that?” He squints at him, licking his lips as Caspar’s shoulders begin to shake. It’s not long before he’s booming out a fuck yeah! And pumping his fist in the air.

“That was the best pick up line!”

Hook.

Line.

Sinker.

Tomas pulls him back down and kisses the hell out of him. If anyone asks? His answer will be why the hell not. He guesses it’s just pure absolute luck that there’s a pretty boy on his lips. Maybe it is.

Ten Days Of Teasers: We’re All Mad Here #3

Only one week to go until you can get your hands on Leigh Raines’s New Adult debut, We’re All Mad Here.

Built out of 1 part personal experience and 1 part wanting to tell a story that needed to fill a void in the area of what it’s really like to be a new adult and figuring things out…when the world still thinks you have no idea, this novel will keep you turning pages until you hit the end.

And then, you’re going to look back at yourself, and you might laugh, you might cry, you might be thankful you got through it, or you might just be happy that someone understands where you are right now.

If that is the type of book you are looking for, this is your hidden gem.

Swing on over to your favorite bookstore and pre-order it today!

 I stood there thinking my knees would (1)